Agent and Trainer Seek Light Sentences for Smuggling in Cuban Ballplayers
On October 10, 2017, baseball agent Bartolo Hernandez and sports trainer Julio Estrada requested a Florida federal judge give light sentences — instead of the government’s request for harsher sentences — for their convictions for smuggling Cuban baseball players into the United States. In March, a Miami jury convicted Hernandez and Estrada for their roles in a scheme that coerced vulnerable baseball players, obtained false documents, and assisted in fraudulent and outright illegal entry into the U.S. Hernandez faces 3 to 15 years in prison for conspiracy and alien smuggling of Seattle Mariners outfielder Leonys Martin. Estrada faces 5 to 35 years of imprisonment for conspiracy and three counts of smuggling for the illegal entries of Chicago White Sox slugger Jose Abreu, former Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Dalier Hinojosa, and former New York Yankees farmhand Omar Luis.
The advisory guidelines for sentencing that would apply to the case — Guideline 2L1.1 — covers crimes involving smuggling, transporting, or harboring an unlawful alien. This guideline would recommend prison terms of 87 to 108 months for Hernandez’s and Estrada’s roles as supervisors of the conspiracy and their attempts to obstruct justice. Aggravating factors would also be considered in the sentencing, such as the conspirators’ possession of guns to guard the baseball players in Mexico, the substantial risks of physical harm, and the use of threats and coercion to detain one player. However, on October 4, 2017, the prosecutors argued that despite all these considerations, the sentencing guidelines are not sufficient for the case and that the judge should exceed the guidelines. Prosecutors claimed the guidelines fail to address the violent and sophisticated nature of the conspiracy and its extensive nature. The conspiracy ran from April 2009 to April 2016 and stretched from Cuba to Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti.
Both Hernandez and Estrada responded to the prosecutors move to increase the sentencing guidelines. Hernandez argued the government is pushing for an unfairly increased sentence based on crimes involving detainment through coercion or threats associated to a demand for payment while the alien is transported or harbored, which is not based on any factual evidence in the case. Hernandez claimed demand for payment only occurred after the players had entered and signed their Major League Baseball contracts and received signing bonuses and salary payments. By that point in time, the players were not involuntarily detained and were freely living in the United States. Both Hernandez and Estrada argued for a light sentence because they have never been charged with a crime prior to the current charges. Hernandez requested a maximum sentencing of 51 months, and Estrada requested a minimum mandatory term of 60 months. Regardless of the outcome, both Hernandez and Estrada previously indicated they likely will appeal their convictions.